The Encounter, written and directed by Simon McBurney

The multi-talented actor, performer, creative artist, Simon McBurney, founded the UK theatre company Complicite, with which he collaborated on his solo performance, The Encounter, now at the Curran Theatre in San Francisco through May 7.  His face may be familiar not only to  theatergoers, but also filmgoers.  He has been seen in such films as The Golden Compass, The Manchurian Candidate, and The Theory of Everything, as well as TV in various róles.

The Encounter, I believe, is theatre no one has ever experienced.  It is based on an account by National Geographic photojournalist, Loren McIntyre, who went into the Amazon basin to locate and film the unspoiled Maryuna tribe.  He got lost  trying to follow them, undergoing harrowing events, not knowing where he was or if he would find his way back- or even survive.  Worse, would the tribe kill him?  McIntyre later met the writer Petru Popescu and told him about his experiences.  The result was Popescu’s book, “Amazon Beaming”.    McBurney read it and was inspired to bring it to the stage.  And bring it, he did.  Big time.

In a tour de force, 2-hour, mostly very physical monologue, McBurney sweeps, dashes, storms, and paces around the Curran’s dimly and spottily lit expansive stage -back, forth, side-to-side, and circles around and around, in front of an ever-changing, disorienting geometrically patterned backdrop, expounding as McIntyre and himself, on McIntyre’s encounters in the jungle.   He is like the late Spalding Gray on steroids,

We, the audience, through earphones we found on our seats before the show ( and were instructed on their use) experienced not only the voices of  McIntyre, McBurney, the Mayaruna tribal chief, a tribesman McIntryre nick-named “Red Cheeks;” and McBurney’s young daughter (the conceit is that he is home babysitting while trying to assemble the props, sound equipment, etc.  needed for his performance), but also ambient sounds of the Amazon: rainstorms, birds, frogs, insects, and animals   Sound designer Gracie Hayes calls the technique “binaural storytelling.”  The sound was so clear it felt as though we were in the Amazon, and that the narrators were directly behind or beside us.   More then once I was tempted to turn to acknowledge the speaker.

Let me simply say that McBurney succeeds in taking us with him (as Loren McIntyre) on his adventures. Our only relief from life or death encounters is knowing that McIntyre had survived.  The show feels very much as though we all had indulged in a psychedelic drug, or imbibed it via the air conditioning system.

I encourage you not to miss McBurney’s performance.  It is unique.  Most likely you’ll not see the like anytime soon.  Only three more performances: May 5, 6, Friday and Saturday 8PM; and May 7, Sunday at 2.  www.thecurrantheater.org.